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23 Feb 2024
by Dr Julia Lyons

4 ways to recognise and support employees with parental burnout 

Every working parent knows how hard it can be to juggle home and work life. Employers need to spot those people who are becoming overwhelmed by their responsibilities

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It can be hard for many parents to juggle their home and work life as well as the many unplanned and ad-hoc events and tasks, which can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and being overwhelmed. 

As a bridge between the workforce and senior leadership, HR and employee wellbeing teams have the important role of not only understanding what parental burnout means, but also having the ability to recognise the other contributing factors. 

When life is busy, it is natural for a parent to feel a certain amount of stress. Burnout particularly takes effect in the lives of parents when their overall responsibilities for caring for children, on top of their existing roles, consistently exceed their mental and physical capacities.

Signs and symptoms of parental burnout 

These symptoms of parental burnout can lead to a variety of the feelings and behaviours, which can trickle into the workplace. These may include, but are not limited to, withdrawing from work responsibilities, taking out frustrations on colleagues and senior leadership, being late for meetings, or skipping work entirely.

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

4 ways employers can support employees 

Employers have a duty of care under UK law to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare. It is important to recognise the parental demands on employees and evidence suggests that organisational parental support and family friendly working practices can lead to better coping and subsequent work outcomes.

1. Good communication

Good communication can help address parental burnout and reduce absences. Remember to ask the individual how they are feeling and how you as an employer can help. Make sure communication is a two-way channel, so employees feel they can come and talk to you about their mental health.

2. Check-in regularly

Regular one-to-ones with an individual can help you to spot the signs and symptoms of parental burnout before they become a significant issue. Check-ins also foster good relationships and show the employee that you have a genuine interest in their health and wellbeing and are keen to support them.

3. Have an open culture

There can be a culture of fear and stigma surrounding mental health issues in the workplace, meaning you avoid addressing mental health issues altogether. Create a company culture where mental health is frequently part of company strategy and prioritised as much as employee’s physical health. 

4. Take a flexible approach

Your employees will all have different ways of working and dealing with challenges. If an employee feels like they aren’t coping or need adaptations to their work, HRs can be as flexible as possible so they can best cater to the needs of their employees, through adjusting hours, workload, tactics, breaks, or perhaps providing a mentor.

It is important as an employer to be proactive in your approach towards parental burnout. Early detection can help prevent more severe and widespread issues developing.

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